Not Hispanic, Not Latinx, Not Mestizo

The terms Latin(o) and Hispanic in their true definition, refer to Latin-Roman language speaking peoples of European Iberian peninsula origin. Namely the people of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France– the people who initiated the colonization of the “Americas”. However, after hundreds of years of colonization and genocide by those true Latin countries, most Mexican, Central and South American Indigenous (Brown) people now identify with the colonizer’s identity. The fact that most Brown people now have Latin surnames and speak Latin languages like Spanish, results in our Indigenous identity and existence being obscured. Not only are we oblivious or ashamed of our Indigenous identity, most of the world has also been domesticated into viewing us as non-original peoples . The domestication is so ingrained that most Brown people will even identify with a European person or place that has no cultural or ethnic continuity with them or our Indigenous roots.

For those of you new to reclaiming your Indigenous selves and coming across the Not Hispanic, Not Latino (or Latinx) concept for the first time, I hope this gives you a solid understanding. For those Chicanxs + Central Americans who are already on the Indigenous reclamation path I’m sure you have already encountered this understanding from a variety of neo-Mexica thinkers. For you, you will find concepts and explanations you’ve already heard. However, this piece will expand on the general concept of Not Hispanic, Not Latinx. It will fill in gaps, make clarifications, and correct some of the assumptions and misapplications of this concept that I feel haven’t been addressed.

 

Understanding White Supremacy

To start, it is imperative to have a respectable awareness and understanding of what White Supremacy is. 

“If you do not understand White Supremacy, what it is, and how it works—everything else that you try to understand, will only confuse you.” – Neely Fuller (1969)

 

  Understanding White Supremacy is critical to our Indigenous Reclamation movement and our fight for social, economic, and spiritual liberation. Not just for us as Indigenous people but for the world and humanity as well. I see many intersectional political and social movements happening these days that are still quite deficient in acknowledging white supremacy and how it manifests in different social, economic, and religious settings. If White Supremacy and all its manifestations are not properly identified and neutralized, those movements and actions for Indigenous liberation and prosperity will remain diluted and unfocused.

For our purposes, the following is a great definition for understanding white supremacy taken from the the late great Frances Cress Welling:

 

“White Supremacy: is the local and global power system dynamic, structured and maintained by those who classify themselves as white; whether consciously or subconsciously .; this system consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of people activity: economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war.”

 

That is just a brief explanation but we will expand on white supremacy and its manifestations in a different piece. For now, let us be clear that the intentional mislabeling of Brown (Indigenous) and Black people is a tactic of white supremacy to disconnect us from our Indigeneity and make us invisible in order to orient us as subjects of the colonizers.

 

The Basics 

In a nutshell Hispanic means “things of Spain” or people and is intended to specify people who speak Spanish , whereas “Latino/a/x” refers to people of Latin American countries. Spanish is one of the handful of Romance (Roman Empire) languages and cultures that also include French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian languages. Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal all have roles in the colonization of what is now popularly called  “Latin America”. Both labels have their particular histories which we will not go into depth here. For our basic intents and purposes know that Hispanic and Latino are two sides of the same coin. Where Hispanic is Spain specific and Latino is reference to the collective dominion of colonization by the already mentioned Latin-Roman(ce) countries.

Using Hispanic/Latino identities orients us in whiteness and erases us from our Indigenous heritage and others from their African heritage. Those labels put Europeans at the center of our Indigenous narrative. It obscures our identity to make us think we are all the same. It is the equivalent of African-Americans in the United States claiming they are English or British and not acknowledging they are Black just because they have English names. To us that sounds silly but that is exactly what we are doing by calling ourselves Latino or Hispanic. While our people are collectively in a sad state of misidentification we must have compassion with ourselves. Remember that the Mexican area colonization has been in motion for over 500 years. Juxtapose that to the bulk of the United States area territories that didn’t get subjugated until the mid 1800s.

 

We Are Not a Mestizo Nation

 

“While it is undeniable that some Mexicans are mestizos, many are not. Indeed, it is safe to say that most Mexicans cannot trace any Spanish or any other European ancestry. The perception held by the world-and by Mexicans themselves-that Mexico is a mestizo nation is almost completely false.”           – Victor Mejia

 

Despite centuries of imposed self hate and indoctrination to adopt White centric, Indigenous erasing identities like Latino, Hispanic, or Mestizo— Mexican people are predominantly of Indigenous cultural and spiritual heritage.

 Mestizo is not an identity. Like Latino and Hispanic, it is just another way for marginalized Indigenous to divest from being “Indians” and invest in the European colonizer’s world. Despite propaganda to suggest Mexico as a mixed or “mestizo” melting pot country, the numbers have never reflected that.  In this essential piece Mestizaje and Self-Hate, Victor Mejia notes:

 

“Furthermore, the indigenous population then far outnumbered-and still outnumbers today-the non-Indians in Mexico. It must remain clear that only 900 Spaniards accompanied Hernan Cortez in 1521 when he conquered the Mexica.2 In contrast, 150,000 people inhabited the Mexica city, by conservative estimates. Some historians have calculated the number closer to 500,000, while still others place Tenochtitlan’s population at one million (Thomas 613). 

These figures speak only of the Mexica city, which was located in central Mexico, a region estimated to have been inhabited by 25 million people. Overall, Mexico’s entire native population is believed to have numbered 30 million in 1521, making Mexico “more populous than any country in Europe. France, the largest, had about 20 million, and Spain roughly 8 million.” (Meyer and Sherman 89). Simply put, 900 Spaniards were insufficient to alter the racial make up of the entire native population.

In addition, despite European and African migration into Mexico during the colonial period, indigenous people continued to “vastly outnumbered all other racial groups in New Spain” (211). Even when the native population in central Mexico fell to its lowest point in 1650 to one million, as a result of European disease and Spanish cruelty, it still exceeded whites, who were only 119,000. Blacks were 35,089 (208 and 215). By 1810, native people numbered nearly four million while whites were only 1.1 million and mestizos only 704,245 (218). More importantly, these numbers only reflect the demographics of central Mexico.”

 

He goes on to note that..

 

” in colonial times it was common for Spaniards to rape women and abandon their offspring. These genetically mixed children were nurtured under native tradition by their mothers and thus were culturally more Indian than Spanish.” 

 

Also, simple research will show that there are far more people who speak Indigenous languages in Mexico than there are in the United States and Canada combined. When one is able to see past the facade of Spanish language, surnames, and Catholic appropriation of our customs—it is not hard to see the Indigenous ancestry markers, phenotypes, essence, and cultural mannerisms still dominant in our families and people today regardless of skin tone.

So as you can see, the Mestizo, “Raza Cosmica” narrative we’ve been fed is garbage, and at the very least highly questionable.

 

Why such scrutiny over Mexican/ Central Americans and our Indigeneity?

We must also ask ourselves why the scrutiny over Mexicans and other Spanish speaking Natives for wanting to reclaiming our Indigenous identity? There seems to be no issue when we want to claim some distant real or made up European nationality, or be Latin or Mestizo. But all hell breaks loose when we choose to actually identify with what we truly are. 

We can speculate why they want to erase us from existence. We are deeply tied to the land. They have and want to keep the land and wealth they stole. We are their mirrors. They don’t want to be reminded of who they really are and the crimes they have and continue to commit. If “we are all the same people” then there are no crimes to be accountable for, nor anyone to be accountable to.

A good friend of mine notes how most Jews have much more European blood than the average Mexican does and while being disconnected from the Middle East for over 2000 years, they still maintain their Hebrew/Israelite identity and are not challenged on their glaring European traits.

In his piece “The Mestizo Concept- a product of European Imperialism” , the late, great Jack D. Forbes writes this in critique of how Spanish and other peoples who actually merit the “mixed” or “mestizo” labels more than us do not have it insisted upon them.

“In both a racial and culture sense, then, the Spaniard is profoundly a true mestizo. In fact, it is safe to say that (except among the Basques) the Spanish culture of modern times is almost wholly non-Spanish in origin (in terms, at least, of specific traits) and is thoroughly mixed. Surprisingly, however, one never finds Anglo-Saxon social scientists categorizing the Spaniards as a mestizo. 

One never finds scholars describing a Spanish subgroup as part Gitano or as a North African physical type. One never finds social scientists attempting to dissect the Spanish people and then to tell them who they are.. Furthermore modern Mexican and Chicano people possess far greater connection with their ancient Mexican past than many European groups do with their respective past.”

 

Wait, but my DNA test says I am part European?

Genetic admixture doesn’t equate to identity. Our historical bond of continuity with our Indigenous culture and lifeways is what makes us Indigenous. It is also in this way that non-Native people can discover they have 15% Native DNA yet not be Indigenous in identity because of their lack of socio-historic continuity. 

An example- Snoop Dogg found out he has 23% Native American DNA. Yet, he identifies, walks through his life as, and society responds to him as a Black man. This is because of obvious ancestry markers (or phenotype) but more solidly, because of his socio-cultural continuity with his Black ancestors. It is in that similar way that even though us Brown people may have substantial European or other blood, we walk fully or predominantly as Native Indigenous people because of our historic socio-cultural continuity.

Society doesn’t respond to us as Asians, African, or White people. They respond to us as “Indians.” The colonizers have not been making making walls, borders, and fucked up laws for the Ricky Martins or Sofia Vergaras. They are making them for the Michael Peńas and Danny Trejos. The Mexicans, Central Americans, to them we are the Indians who remind them of their destructive history and moral debts to humanity. If we are “all the same” so-called mestizo nation, then there is nothing nor anyone for colonizers to be accountable for or to.

If you feel you are genuinely multi-racial then cool, honor that. A lot of our families have their racial nuances  for sure. But let’s not let people insist that just because one has some non-Native admixture that that constitutes their identity or heritage. Once you study our collective Brown history it becomes very clear that our essence, timeline, and trajectory is an Indigenous one.

 

A Ways to Go

The whitewashing of Mesoamerican peoples into Hispanic, Latino, and Mestizo identities has been an ongoing process for about 500 years. In Mexico til this day, hardships and shame continue to be levied upon anything and anyone noticeably Indigenous. After hundreds of years of being domesticated by  rewarding of whiteness (Latinidad)  and punishing Indigeneity, it is no wonder our people want to disassociate from being “Indio” and fall into the desire to identify as anything but Indigenous. 

For those of us Chicanx growing up in the United States experience we can add an additional layer of colonization. Shamed and marginalized for being Mexican and speaking Spanish on top of hundreds of years of being shamed for being Indians. Due to relentless social hardships and assaults on our Indigeneity, not only have many of our families invested in Latinidad but now also Anglo American culture. That’s double the barrier we have to overcome to reclaim our authentic Indigenous selves and the immortal inheritances our Ancestors left us.

 

We Are Not All the Same

I often hear people say things like “well what’s the best name for us?” Of course when they  say “us” what they really mean is the people currently under the umbrella  of Hispanic and Latino labels. Understandably it’s probably a hard thing to unlearn but we must acknowledge that “we” Spanish speakers of “Latin American” countries in this hemisphere are not all the same—and that is ok.

Insisting that we are all the same is akin to saying that all Americans are the same because we all speak English. But we know that is silly because there are many people who have distinct and different histories.  Just like even tho some in the United States might have had parallel struggles, Indigenous people’s history is not Black people’s history, and Japanese history is not Chinese history etc.. It is in this same way that Spanish or other Latin (Iberian) people’s history in Mexico is not the same as Indigenous people’s history or Black African history in this hemisphere.  It is in that same way the Mexican and Central America history is significantly different than Cuba’s, Argentina’s or other similar “Latin American” countries with a predominantly White (Latin) populations.

As Indigenous people in the movement for healing, justice, and liberation, it is our way to build good relations with all people , things, and spaces. There are many ways that people connect. It could be by way of liking the same type of music, sports, or speaking the same language as another.  There are many ways people can build solidarity and social relationships. However, it does not, and should not be at the expense of our personal histories. Especially when those histories are inextricably connected to the healing, liberation, and other imperative social issues of our peoples.

 

Correct Your Identity

Correct your identity. That is of course if one is actually of Indigenous Mesoamerican heritage. If you’re lineage’s historic continuity is European, even though your family has been here for centuries or whatever then your fine to claim Latino. Because that is what you really are. But the majority of  people of Mexicans and Central American nationalities are clearly and predominantly of Indigenous heritage. With this we must be honest with ourselves that there is a substantial contingent of Mexicans or other Spanish speaking nationalities in this hemisphere whose families and lineage have not been oriented in the Indigenous heritages of this “American” continent. 

Funk faking claims happen a lot these days unfortunately. People of European heritage with Latin surnames claiming Indigeneity because their family has been “Mexican” or “Colombian” citizens for whatever amount of years. Again, this is due to the intentional convoluting and mislabeling of our Brown peoples and believing that “we are all the same” just because we carry similar Latin surnames and someone also speaks Spanish like us. While gatekeeping is a slippery slope, and solidarity should be built along common struggles, we must be honest in acknowledging when people from our Spanish speaking communities do not have that same Indigenous cultural continuity. For collective unity to succeed all people must be honest about their socio-historic trajectories and the responsibilities that come with it.

 

What Should I Call Myself Then?

There are many ways to divest from the harmful, Indigenous erasing terms like Hispanic and Latino. One less harmful way is to identify with your family’s country of origin such as Mexican, El Salvadorian, Nicaraguan, etc. It’s been shown that most so-called Latinos prefer this.  

Assuming you are on this website because you’re inspired to reconnect with your Indigeneity, you can also try to estimate the original Indigenous nationalities of your people. I am blessed to know a respectable amount of my family history so I have been able to gravitate toward my Purepecha and Guachichil Indigenous nationalities.

For those of us that don’t have that privilege of knowing your Indigenous nation connection, a good option is to identify as Mexica. We use Mexica synonymously with, and to reflect, the general Indigenous peoples of what is dubbed Mesoamerica. Using Mexica as an identity is not meant to suggest that we give up our individual Indigenous identities for nationalistic reasons, which is a popular misconception being pushed by wokosos on social media these days. On this website we use the term Mexica as a placeholder for those of our people rediscovering their Indigenous selves. 

Another option is is to use the Nahuatl terms Nican (Ti)Tlacah or Macehualli which are terms that generally infer “Indigenous person.”

In Closing

So remember that if you are Indigenous from any Spanish speaking country in this hemisphere, divesting from whiteness/Latinidad is a revolutionary act. Smash the labels that seek to keep us and our Indigenous legacies invisible. Smash the labels that seek to disconnect us from our Tlalnantzin, our Mother Earth, the land they wish to kep us disconnected from.

Revoking the harmful Latino and Hispanic labels will save us much grief and weed out the fakers who misrepresent us. It will help lift layers of deception so we can see the sinister nature of this white supremacy education and social system. No more white Cubans claiming they speak for “us Hispanics”. No more Spanish Europeans perpetrating themselves as Mexican heroes people in movies.  No more Catholic Church trying pass off our oppressors as “one of us” just because we have similar Latin surnames.

 They say you can’t love anyone you don’t know. The hundreds of years of shaming and having our histories kept from us has resulted in destructive symptoms of self hate in our peoples. Being honest with who you are, being honest with who we are.. Being our authentic and true selves is the best justice and gift we can give ourselves, our future generations, and this world.

Let’s move forward as the beautiful Indigenous people we are.

Not Hispanic! Not Latino! Not Mestizo! Not Immigrant ! Not Illegal!

Soy Chicano!, Ni Mexica!, Ni Macehual!, Ji Purhepecha!

Additional Identity Decolonizing Reading

Mestizaje and Self Hate

by Victor Mejia

jack d forbes

Mestizo: Concept of Imperialism

by Jack D. Forbes

What’s wrong with the terms Hispanic, Latino, Latinx?

by Omecoatl Amazolli

chicanos from the 70s on a car

Can We Please Stop Using ‘Latinx’? Thanx.

by Kurly Tlapoyawa

5 Reasons to reject the war on Chicana-Chicano Indigeneity.

by Kurly Tlapoyawa